Kids Leaving For College Is Emotional For Parents
It’s August, and your child is leaving for college. Yes, I know it brings up many feelings and they are often mixed. One minute you’re laughing with them at a Kmart Blue Light Special, the next minute you’re dissolving into tears. The thing about being a parent is that when we finally master one stage of development with our kids, they’ve already catapulted into the next.
Leaving for college is a huge transition for a family. For many parents this separation feels like a small death. In a way, it is the end of the original family construct. Think about it, for years the focus was on your child’s grades, extracurricular activities, getting along with classmates, talking about what subjects to study, filling out applications, researching prospective colleges, visiting the schools, writing essays, and meeting deadlines. Then the anxious wait for acceptances to arrive begins. Everyone’s a complete wreck waiting for the daily mail delivery when future hopes and dreams are realized or crushed by a single letter. Hopefully, your son or daughter got to tear open a thick envelope announcing that he or she was accepted into college -and maybe even the first-choice.
Before the ink dries on the first fat tuition check the big day has come: the rental van is packed like a biblical camel trying to move through the eye of the needle. Some reports say those camels got down on their knees to squeeze through the historical gate. Not too unlike parents who feel this moment brought them to their emotional knees.
When you arrive on campus the excitement is visceral. Where did all these people come from? Trucks, vans, SUV’s, a million backpacks and acres of kids in baseball caps are spread out as far as the eye can see. Is this a dream? Where are we? We’ve never seen anything like it.
On the outside we parents are genuinely thrilled for our kids. A college education is a privilege that maybe we didn’t even have. But inside, right below the exhilaration and gratefulness we feel for providing it, parents feel an aching sadness, the result of a suppressed emotion of imminent separation, loss and the unexpressed fears we’re obsessing on, Will she be all right? Will he remember to wash his clothes and call us once a week? When we dig a little deeper we wonder, Will I be all right? “Here, let me make up your bed.” “Here, let me help arrange a few pieces of furniture.” “Here, I made you a cooler full of your favorite pasta.”
These eleventh hour ‘momness’ activities are understandable – raising our children took 18 years to master! We fed, clothed, drove, enrolled, counseled and consoled these curious, intelligent, talented, creative, petulant geniuses that we have loved since we first saw our child. And, dad? He just wants his kids to stay away from the beer keg, stay out of trouble and stay permanently on the dean’s list. He also realizes his son’s yelling over nothing last night was a face-saving technique that ‘the dad' didn’t take personally because he understands how acting mad keeps everyone from feeling that painful separation anxiety that the family feels anyway.
Parents, realize that you are not alone; millions of us look back wistfully on the days of Dr. Denton’s, little league games and Santa Claus. We cannot believe the years have gone by so quickly. But, realize, too, the new way your kids now need you. Realize your present task is to now assure your children that they will be fine. Tell them outright that you have confidence in their intellectual capabilities, that they have the personalities to make new friends that may last a lifetime and not to forget you’re only a text or a cell phone call away. When you turn to get back into the van, pull out your calendar, put the first parent’s weekend on it and smile as you do. Then, confidently tell your kids you love them and they’ll be all right and you will be, too. Finally, hug them goodbye with another smile on your lips and a prayer in your heart and leave quickly and don’t look back as much for them as for yourselves.
Remember, you did a great job giving your kids wings, now delight in their first solo flight that every parent knows is a triumph and a terror for the student and the instructor.
Published in The Sandpaper, August 13,2014